Freeman Charles Fitzgerald (born August 21, 1891) was an All-American football player for Notre Dame. He was six feet in height and weighed 195 pounds. He played football for Notre Dame from 1913–1915 and was selected as an All-American at the guard position in 1915. He later played professional football for the Massillon Tigers (1916), Youngstown Patricians (1917), and Rock Island Independents (1920–1921).
Fitzgerald was born in Gervais, Oregon, and raised in Aberdeen, Washington. He attended the Columbia University school, a Roman Catholic school that was part of what later became the University of Portland in Portland, Oregon. He was a three-sport star at Columbia. As a pitcher for Columbia's baseball team, he once struck out 19 batters from Vancouver High School, setting a Portland Interscholastic League single-game record. In 1911, he signed a professional baseball contract with a team in Spokane, but he refused to report, opting to attend Notre Dame instead. In football, Fitzgerald was the starting fullback for the 1911 Columbia football team that played in the Portland Interscholastic League. Four players from the 1911 Columbia team went on to become starters for the Notre Dame football team; they were Fitzgerald, Bill Kelleher, Bill Cook, and Charles Finnegan. Fitzgerald also played left forward for the 1910 Columbia basketball team that won the Portland Interscholastic League championship. In September 1912, Fitzgerald announced his intention to enroll at Notre Dame, and the Morning Oregonian reported the news as follows:
"Freeman Fitzgerald, Columbia University's star football, basketball and baseball man, will be with the teams of the school no more, as he graduated last season and, contrary to the belief of the fans, is not going to take a post-graduate course. He left here last week for Notre Dame University, where he is going in for athletics as much as study. The first year he will try out for one of the guards."
Athlete at Notre Dame
After high school, Fitzgerald enrolled at Notre Dame where he studied mechanical engineering and continued to be a multi-sport star. Though his greatest fame came as a football player, he also won varsity letters in football, baseball, and basketball. Fitzgerald was among the first players in Notre Dame history to receive varsity letters in the three sports.
As a pitcher for the Notre Dame baseball team, Fitzgerald drew the attention of big league scouts. His pitching performance suffered in 1913, and his setback was blamed on the overdevelopment of his shoulder muscles after a summer of "pulling 'lead line' on a seining skiff at the Sand Island seining grounds. His pitching arm recovered in 1914, and he was offered "a fat contract" by the New York Yankees. However, Fitzgerald opted to continue with his education at Notre Dame.
For the summer of 1914, Fitzgerald did not return to the Pacific fishing grounds, instead accepting a job as a lifeguard at Cedar Point on Lake Erie: "What Sand Island at the mouth of Columbia River is to athletes of the Oregon, Cedar Point has long been to the athletes of Notre Dame. Every year between 15 and 20 go there, where working short hours they keep in good condition by swimming and boating, and are in splendid shape to hit into hard football practice in the early Fall."
In football, Fitzgerald played guard for Notre Dame from 1913–1915 and was a teammate of Knute Rockne on the 1913 football team. He was selected as the captain of Notre Dame's 1915 football team that compiled a 7-1 record – the sole loss a 20-19 defeat to Nebraska. He was selected as a first-team All-American in 1915 by Eastern sports authority Parke H. Davis and as a second-team All-American by International News Service sports editor Frank G. Menke.
Fitzgerald also excelled academically. He was also one of two Notre Dame athletes to receive the school's jewel in 1915 for highest scholastic standing. In the Notre Dame yearbook for the Class of 1916, the following tribute was paid to Fitzgerald:
”Fitzgerald is a big Oregonian — big in body, in mind, and in heart. During the last four years, he has been one of the most prominent and popular men at Notre Dame. As captain of the great 1915 football team, he won the recognition which his athletic ability deserved — a place on the all-American. His ability to shoot goals from the field and the foul line have made his presence on the basketball team invaluable. After four years of success in meeting the difficulties of the mathematics classes and the other troubles of the engineers, he has succumbed (according to rumor) to the charms of one of the fair ones in the neighboring city.”
Professional football and coaching
After graduating from Notre Dame, Fitzgerald played several seasons of professional football. He played for the Massillon Tigers in 1916, where he rejoined his Notre Dame teammate Knute Rockne. The 1916 Massillon Tigers finished in second place behind Jim Thorpe's Canton Bulldogs. In 1917, the Youngstown Patricians (a team affiliated with the Patrician Club at Youngstown's St. Patrick's Parish) sought to win the professional football championship and signed five All-Americans, including Fitzgerald, Tommy Hughitt, Tom Gormley, Bart Macomber, Bill Kelleher, and Gil Ward.
In 1918, Fitzgerald's professional football career was interrupted by military service after the United States entered World War I. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant and assigned as an aviation instructor at Brooks Field in San Antonio, Texas.
After the war, Fitzgerald signed with the Rock Island Independents of the American Professional Football Association (predecessor to the NFL). He played Rock Island in the 1920 and 1921 seasons. From 1922 through 1927, Fitzgerald was the line coach at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was one of twelve teammates of Rockne from the 1914 football team who were selected for the honor guard at Rockne's funeral in 1931.
- "Former Columbia Men on Notre Dame's Team: Bill Kellaher Bill Cook Freeman Fitzgerald and Charles Finnegan Help Defeat Army Football Eleven 35 to 13". The Sunday Oregonian. 1913-12-07.
- "2 Seek Triple Emblem: Portland Boys Aspire to Triple Sports Honors; Freeman Fitzgerald and Charles Finnegan, Formerly of Columbia, in Notre Dame Limelight". Morning Oregonian. 1914-03-15.
- "Columbia Five is Pennant Winner: Basketball Championship is Decided Affer Closely Contested Series". Morning Oregonian. 1910-02-27.
- "Football Outlook Bright". Morning Oregonian. 1912-09-03.
- "Bachman and Fitzgerald Win Notre Dame Honors: Awarded Jewels for Highest Scholastic Standing Among the Athletes on Varsity Teams". Indianapolis Star. 1916-02-16.
- "Yankees Seek Portland Boy: Chance Wants Freeman Fitzgerald, Now at Notre Dame". Morning Oregonian. 1914-05-02.
- "7 Local Boys Get Jobs: Students at Notre Dame Will Earn 'Vacation Money'". Morning Oregonian. 1914-06-15.
- University of Notre Dame - Dome Yearbook. University of Notre Dame, p. 45. 1916.
- Murray A. Sperber (2002). Shake down the thunder: the creation of Notre Dame football, p. 59. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-21568-4.
- "The Super Bulldogs" (PDF). The Professional Football Researchers Assn.
- Vic Frolund. "The Story of the Patricians" (PDF). The Professional Football Researchers Assn.
- "Aberdeen Man Receives Commission". Morning Oregonian. 1918-09-23.
- "Freeman Fitzgerald". Pro-Football-Reference.com.
- "Two Marquette Coaches Resign". Decatur Daily Review. 1928-01-13.
- "6 of Rockne's Boys Will Be Pall-Bearers: Funeral Services for Notre Dame Coach To Be Held This Afternoon". Titusville Herald. 1931-04-04.